Dr Efrosini Charalambous
“We may all be weathering the same storm, but we are not in the same boat”, commented Zubaida Haque, interim director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank. The experience of systemic racism and inequality has not only put black and minority ethnic people at greater risk of dying due to Covid-19 but also made them more vulnerable to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. The exacerbated pre-Covid-19 socioeconomic and racial inequalities signal the need for meaningful place-based policy responses to mitigate the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic.
Higher rates of poverty and a higher likelihood for BAME households to be in persistent poverty are among the main headlines of the latest annual report by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC). The commission found that just under one in five families (19%) with White ethnicity were in poverty in 2018-19 compared to nearly half of Black African Caribbean households (46%), 42% of Other ethnic groups, 39% of Asian/Asian British households and 32% of mixed ethnicity households.
People from BAME communities are also between two and three times as likely to be in persistent poverty than people in families from White ethnic groups. According to the Commission’s report almost three in ten people in families from a Mixed or Multiple ethnic backgrounds and 28% in families with Black ethnicity are in persistent poverty (being in poverty for at least two of the last three years) compared to 10% of people from White ethnic groups.
London has the highest poverty rate (29%) compared to other English regions, and data collected from five east London neighbourhoods in 2017 for the London Prosperity Index (LPI), demonstrates that BAME groups suffer from lower real household disposable incomes than white ethnic groups, have high levels of financial distress, feel less safe in public space, report greater dissatisfaction with local environmental and health services, and are less optimistic about the future. The LPI data, for example, suggests that people of Mixed or Multiple ethnic backgrounds appear to feel less secure about their future and experience a lack of autonomy and/or ability to change or improve their lives compared to people from White ethnic groups.
As well as showing differences in perceptions about the local area and the future, these disparities among ethnicities are also likely to reflect that pathways to place-based prosperity are not equitable.
“Where there are obstacles we need to ensure that these are removed by those for whom it is in their power to do so, and where individuals can build their own pathway out of poverty we need to ensure that they have the tools to do so” states the commission’s chair, Philippa Stroud. The Commission hopes to prompt further analysis that can support policymakers in their responses to mitigate the poverty impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.
People already in poverty or just above the poverty line are expected to move deeper into poverty as a result of the crisis. A follow-up report by the Commission, based on a survey of 80,000 adults carried out between 25 March and 18 May, shows that 65% of people in deep poverty before the crisis have had their hours or earnings reduced and/or been furloughed or lost their job. BAME individuals have been slightly more likely to have such negative labour market experiences compared to those from White ethnic groups.
Understanding the interrelation between racial and socioeconomic inequalities and the impact of Covid-19 requires policies that adopt place-based approaches. For example, a recent policy briefing on Racial Inequalities and Covid-19 in the Liverpool City Region highlights the need for a systematic multi-sector action to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and to address structural racism in a meaningful way. Disaggregation of data, placing value on the lived experience and expertise within the affected communities, and building equitable partnerships among local communities and stakeholders, are a few key recommendations of the report.
Co-producing the pathways to solving these inequalities is at the foreground of IGP’s ongoing work (e.g. see about the IGP’s collaborations with Money A+E and Hackney Quest). Addressing the intersecting nature of systemic racial, social and economic inequalities is an urgent and complex issue, which also requires a closer look at the disparities in the experience of good life.
To make a real difference in people’s life and mitigate the disproportionate impact of the pandemic, policymakers need to consider and identify pathways for actions that enhance place-based prosperity. The pandemic has made the existing inequalities far more salient and, thus, offers a good opportunity to acknowledge and address them in a meaningful way.
Image credit: Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash
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